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River and creek clean ups in North County help protect water source

Dozens of volunteers gathered in Atascadero and Templeton Saturday to clean up rivers and creeks in an effort to protect the area’s water source from contamination once rain begins to fall.

“Trash, cans, bottles. We have a homeless population so we’re finding that kind of debris leftover from their encampments,” Atascadero Mutual Water Company Gen. Manager John Neil said. “Unfortunately, we find needles, syringes also.”

Neil, who has participated in nearly all of the 23 cleanup events in Atascadero, said his company got involved years ago as part of an education campaign.

“These creeks in North County especially, they are the source of our drinking water,” Neil said. “That’s how the water company got involved 23 years ago is to raise awareness that we need to keep these watersheds clean because the water that flows through these creeks ends up in Salinas River, which is the source of our drinking water.”

The creeks and rivers are low now, but once the rain begins to fall in the winter months, the water will rise.

Along with plastic bottles and clothing, Neil said one of the most common finds is tires. Last year, he said, they collected about 100 tires.

Volunteers young and old worked throughout the morning before receiving a complimentary lunch.

“It’s a little gross but if we’re out here doing what we’re doing now, I think we can clean it up and make some change,” Joshua Tarica, 15, said.

Tarica uncovered a tricycle that he helped dispose of and another man yanked a shopping cart from the river.

But for April Warley, who has been volunteering with river and creek cleanups since she was a child, there was a more surprising discovery.

“The most surprising thing was how many people showed up this morning to come out and clean up the creek, it was so cool just seeing everyone that lives around town caring about where we live, it was a rewarding feeling,” Warley said.

Aja Goare

Aja Goare

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